Other Custody Issues: Adoption

The process of adoption is a legal process by which a person becomes a member of a family who is not their birth family.  It is the permanent, legal transfer of parental rights from the child’s birth parents to the adoptive parents.  Adoption involves a life-long commitment to provide a child with a loving and stable home.

Once a final order of adoption has been ruled by a court of law, the adoptive parents gain the same rights and responsibilities as parents whose children were born to them.  In most jurisdictions in the U.S., at the time the adoption is finalized, the adopted child’s name is legally changed and the court orders an amended birth certificate.

Who is Eligible to Adopt a Child?

Many years ago, only married couples were permitted to adopt.  Today, single people and homosexual couples may be considered eligible to adopt.  Married couples are still considered the best candidates for becoming adoptive parents.  They are viewed to be more stable and committed to one another, thus more capable of being good, consistent parents rather than unmarried individuals.

Children are sometimes adopted by their stepmothers, stepfathers, aunts, uncles or grandparents, if one or both of their parents cannot take care of them.  These adoptions need the assistance of licensed adoption professionals to make sure all the legal requirements are met.

Same sex couples may wish to file adoption proceedings if one partner is the biological parent of a child and the other one is not.  If the non-biological partner has medical coverage or other benefits, he or she may want the child to receive these benefits.  Therefore, an adoption process may be necessary.  Adoption by same-sex couples still face an uphill battle in many states that don’t allow same-sex partners the right to adopt children as stepparents.

What are Independent/Identified/Agency Adoptions?

Independent Adoptions

An independent adoption is arranged privately, without an adoption agency.  This is done between the birth family and the adoptive family, often with the assistance of a lawyer.  These adoptions usually involve infants who are healthy that are being given up by the birth mother for a variety of reasons.

Some of the advantages are the ability of the birth parents and adoptive parents to meet and get to know one another.  This process also avoids the long waiting lists and restrictive qualifying criteria that are part of an agency adoption.  Often, they are much less expensive as there is no agency fee involved.

Many states place significant restrictions on independent adoptions.  They may prohibit adoptive parents from advertising for a birth mother, or limit the amount of money the adoptive parents can contribute to the birth mother’s prenatal care and medical expenses.  Birth parents must receive adequate counselling during the adoption process.  If they don’t receive the required amount of counselling, it can put your adoption agreement at risk.

Identified Adoptions

In the case of an identified adoption, both the birth mother and the prospective adoptive parents will know of each other before the baby is born.  Hopeful parents can advertise to find a birth mother, or hire an attorney to assist them.  They may even choose an agency that supports this type of adoption.  This type of adoption offers prospective parents the privilege of knowing the background of the newborn they are planning to adopt.  Couples who go through this process using an agency will have their file made available to mothers considering giving their infants up for adoption.

The downside to this approach is that there is no guarantee that a birth mother will not change her mind about the adoption process once the child is born.  Sometimes they end up waiting for years to be matched through identified adoption.  This can be an extremely painful process if a birth mother changes her mind even after financial investments have been made.

Adoption Agencies

Finding the right adoption agency  in the beginning is very important.  It’s a good idea to take the time to research each agency and make sure that they have a good reputation. You should speak with several agencies before making your decision.  Ask for referrals of people who have successfully used their services. 

The two different types of adoption agencies are public and private.  Public adoption agencies rely on tax dollars, fees, and government grants for funding.  Children in the custody of a public agency were either abused, neglected or abandoned by their birth parents. 

Private agencies make their money on the fees they collect for their services.  Their fees range from $5,000 to $30,000 for both domestic and intercountry adoptions.  Most will allow you to pay fees in installments due at particular points during the adoption process.  Don’t assume that if an agency is charging substantial fee for their services that they must be good.  This is not always the case.  Compare agency fees with others that offer comparable services.  Private agencies often have several members on staff who can meet the various needs of both the birth parents and the prospective adoptive parents. An adoption agency can provide more support services than a private adoption.  One of those is post-adoption support which can be extremely beneficial for first-time adoptive parents.

What is the Adoption Process?

Adoption application procedures include a thorough background check.  Both legal and financial issues are examined.  The severity and length of time of past legal convictions (such as drug or alcohol convictions) is considered in making adoption decisions.  Any serious offense is typically enough to halt the process entirely.  Most agencies will not consider anyone with serious convictions due to the liability that the agency might face if harm later comes to the child.

Once you apply to adopt a child, the laws of all states require that you undergo a “home study”.  Homes studies are conducted to evaluate your desire and commitment to adopt, to explore the reasons why you want to adopt, to evaluate you as a prospective parent, and to provide education about adoption.

Adoption agencies must follow the general regulations of their state.  However, they have the freedom to develop their own application packet, policies and procedures within those regulations.  Some agencies will have prospective parents a series of training classes before they complete an application.  Others may have their social worker initially meet with family members.  The home study is a written report that the social worker completes.  The process can take three to six months to complete.  The following information may be contained in the report:

  • Personal and family background
  • Marriage and family relationships
  • Motivation to adopt
  • Expectations for the child
  • Feelings about infertility (if this is an issue)
  • Parenting and integration of the child into the family
  • Family environment
  • Physical and health history of the applicants
  • Education, employment and finances
  • References and criminal background check
  • Summary and social worker’s recommendation

The adoption process can be extremely time consuming and expensive.  Ask your agency for a guideline on how long the process might take.

Domestic vs. International Adoption

Domestic Adoptions

Adoptive families who pursue independent adoptions can spend $30,000 or more on the adoption process.  This may include legal fees charged by their attorney, and the medical and living expenses of the mother and child.

Sometimes children are adopted directly from their birth families using the services of adoption attorneys or adoption agencies to make sure that the legal requirements are met.  Usually, the child’s biological family chooses the adoptive family, and decides how much future contact the original family will continue to have with the newly created family.

Before parental rights are assumed by adoptive parents, the court determines that biological parents have, legally and with full understanding, either voluntarily relinquished their parental rights, or that those rights have been terminated by the court.

Many children in the community need new families because they are growing up in state-sponsored foster care.  These children vary widely in their ages and races.  They need new parents who are committed to helping them make the transition to a permanent adoptive home and the optimism and hope that a permanent family can offer.

International Adoptions

The first step you will need to take includes filing an application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  They evaluate your suitability and eligibility to be adoptive parents.  Intercountry adoptions are governed by both the laws of the child’s home country and the laws of the United States.  Spend time researching which countries have achieved the most successful adoptions.  You may want to start with the Office of Children’s Issues regarding intercountry adoption.

Adopting internationally is more complicated than a domestic adoption.  You will need to deal with language barriers and immigration concerns in addition to the standard legal issues.  Make sure the agency you choose is experienced in working with the country in question.  You may want to find out if they actually have representatives based in that country. 

Each country has their own criteria for adoptive parents.  Some factors may include age, religion, whether one is married, length of marriage and how many children are already in the family.  Adoption laws vary among countries and a child must qualify for adoption under the laws of his or her country of origin.  Look into the requirements for different countries.  Take into consideration how long you will have to wait for a child from that particular country.  Find out if you need to travel to your child’s country more than once and if so, for how long.

The fees for international adoption include agency fees, immigration processing fees, and court costs.  However, there may be additional costs for child foster care, parents’ travel costs and the adoptive child’s medical care and treatment.

It is extremely important to ensure that you are choosing to adopt from a country with a culture that your family can embrace.  You should be able to provide your child with a sense of pride for their homeland.  It can be a tremendous challenge and blessing to raise a trans-racially adopted child.

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